Thursday NBA Hoops: Chicago Bulls host Boston Celtics

A Classic rivalry gets underway tonight at 8:00 PM ET at the United Center in Chicago, as the home side Chicago Bulls (24-7, 10-1 home) bring on the Boston Celtics (15-3, 4-5 away) for a battle between two of the NBA’s top defenses.

For Boston, who has dropped 3 of their last 4 games including an embarrassing 98-88 road loss last night to the Detroit Pistons, this tough match-up is critical for the Celtics to turn things around. However, a big question mark to that goal tonight looms with the status of Kevin Garnett, who was a late scratch last night in Detroit due to a hip flexor injury. As the only player on the Celtics team to have played in all 27 games so far this season, the absence of Garnett (14.0 points, 7.7 rebounds/game) could be tough a tough void to fill for Boston, and at this point even if he does play, he’ll likely be on reduced minutes. That means that the Celtics will have to find a way to get better production from their bench, getting more minutes and more scoring out of JuJuan Johnson (4.1 points, 1.5 rebounds/game), Chris Wilcox (4.7 points, 3.8 rebounds) and Jermaine O’Neal (5.0 points, 5.3 rebounds/game), especially as they are already hurting down in the paint with Brandon Bass (11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds/game) expected to miss at least a couple more games due to a knee injury.

While JuJuan Johnson has stepped up in the last two games getting more playing time, putting down 22 points and 9 rebounds while averaging 29 minutes and putting in a solid effort on Sunday against Chicago at home (12 points, 4 boards, 2 steals and a blocked shot), and Wilcox has done the same (28 points, 18 rebounds in the last two games), O’Neal continues to only be a factor on defense, and hasn’t scored more than two points in his last 3 games despite averaging north of 24 minutes per contest. If Garnett can’t go tonight, these three guys have to combine to be the floor general that Kevin Garnett usually is by himself, and each of them have to have good nights on both sides of the ball against a very deep Chicago team. Boston does have good depth in the outside shooting game, and has seen Rajon Rondo (15.2 points, 9.6 assists) step up with a triple-double against Chicago on Sunday, followed by a career-high 35 points in the loss at Detroit, but needs to get an improved effort out of leading scorer Paul Pierce (17.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists/game), who has struggled with shooting form in the last three games (10.3 points/game during that stretch). Against a Chicago team that has won three straight against the Celtics at the United Center, holding them to under 85 points per game during that run, Boston simply has to get more scoring from their usual suspects (Pierce, Rondo and Ray Allen), as well as some step-up play from their bench if they are to break the losing trend on the road against Chicago.

For the Bulls, their reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose again looks to be in doubt for tonight’s game with a back injury, which would see him sit for the 4th straight game in a row. However, with the depth the Bulls have, it’s hardly been an issue to have Rose out, as they’ve gone 6-2 this year without their star guard. Filling the void admirably has been C.J. Watson (10.4 points, 4.2 assists/game), who put up 22 points in Boston along with 6 assists, but perhaps more importantly than simply having someone step in for Rose, is having the Bulls use their outstanding depth to collectively add more points to the bottom line. Chicago is without a doubt one of the most balanced teams in the league, ranking 3rd in points allowed (88.0/game), 8th in points scored (97.8), 1st in assists (23.2) and 2nd in rebounds (44.9). 9 players on their roster are averaging better than 7.3 points per contest, and for tonight, consistency across the board could pay dividends against a Celtics team that has been anything but consistent. With injuries in the middle for Boston, Chicago could capitalize on another big game from power forward Carlos Boozer (15.4 points, 8.1 rebounds), who has been the most consistent contributor for the Bulls during their run of 4 wins in 5 games, as well as center Joakim Noah (9.7 points, 9.5 rebounds/game), who has averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds in the last 4 contests. Luol Deng (15.9 points, 7 rebounds/game) also comes off a huge performance against Sacramento on Tuesday, where he scored 22 points, had 11 assists and 7 rebounds in a high-scoring 121-115 win at home. These players are all going to have to step up on the defensive side of things tonight, but perhaps more importantly with the Celtics missing key big men, just getting them to stay on recent form and score plenty of points will be more than enough to get Chicago by Boston tonight at home.

Betting lines for Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics at Betonline Sportsbook

On the money line for tonight’s game, the home side Bulls walk in with -325 odds, while the visiting Boston Celtics, losers of three straight at Chicago and 3 of 4 overall, sit at +270 underdogs.

Against the spread, Chicago gets 7 1/2 points to make up (-110 odds), while the Celtics get the same amount to play with at the same odds.

The Over/Under for tonight’s clash between top defenses finds 180 1/2 points as the mark to stay under or beat out, and if the last meeting at Chicago (an 88-79 win for the Bulls) is any indication how tonight’s game will turn out, especially with both Derrick Rose and Kevin Garnett likely out, we can expect a slower-paced, low scoring game this evening.

Our Pick to Win:

Chicago looks prepped for a solid game tonight as they head into the second contest of a 6-game home stand, and against the depleted Boston Celtics who have been struggling to find consistency and good scoring (26th in the NBA, 90.1 points/game), the Bulls are going to be the odds-on favorite to emerge victorious at home, even if they’ll be without Derrick Rose. With Boston struggling to find depth in scoring and lacking the big men to deal with Luol Deng, Joahkim Noah and Carlos Boozer down low, Chicago is going to dominate on the glass, get plenty of points off second chances, and hand Boston their second consecutive loss to earn redemption for Sunday’s loss at Boston. Though I expect the points to be subdued in tonight’s contest, it will be mainly at the expense of the Celtics, who will continue to struggle to generate offense against the Bulls at the United Center. Chicago wins by a score of 89-76, shutting down the Celtics scoring, and getting contributions across the starting line-up as well as good efforts from the bench.

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